Apologies for the fuzzy iPhone photo and the messy kitchen — you see, I was struggling not to drop an 18-pound turkey at the time. And this turkey, well, he was the whole reason we had gathered together on a day that was definitely not Thanksgiving. A turkey dinner in February? That's just how I roll.
Another look at the big bad turkey!
The real story here is that I was in the midst of a recipe development project that included needing to cook a whole Thanksgiving turkey. Such is the wacky crazy life of a food writer! This being February and nowhere near any turkey-cooking holidays, the only turkeys that I could find were huge birds. Ginormous birds. Birds that my household of two would have no hope of eating in a reasonable time period.
So I decided to throw a party!
This is actually fairly typical of how I like to entertain. I come across a big, fancy recipe that I can't stop thinking about, but that doesn't quite work for my normal weekly cooking, and then I plan a party around it. It's a double-win: I get to indulge my occasional urge for over-the-top dishes and I get all of my favorite people in one place for a night.
The make-ahead icebox cake that we had for dessert
I used to obsess over planning a perfect meal — plotting side dishes that would compliment the main dish or working around themes. In the end, I had to accept that my obsessiveness was hampering my actual enjoyment of preparing and eating this meal. These days, I pick whatever side dishes sound good to me. I aim for a balance of lighter dishes and heavier dishes, but I figure that the flavors of the meal will come together perfectly just by virtue of being served together on the same table. And so far, this philosophy has served me well.
Here was my menu for this particular dinner:
The Quirky Turkey Dinner Menu
Plus, plenty of wine and beer, with some homemade mead for after dinner sipping.
I learned long ago that I tend to be an anxious, hand-wringing hostess. In order for me to relax and enjoy my dinner parties, I now make sure that I plan a meal that can be made almost entirely ahead. I made the spiced nuts, both salads, the bread, and the icebox cake in the days leading up to the party. I prepped the bacon-wrapped potato bites the morning of the party and then baked them off after the turkey was out of the oven and just before the guests showed up.
I also have a good friend who loves making cocktails, so I asked her if she would make a special cocktail to serve in the hour leading up to dinner. She arrived a little ahead of the other guests, set up a station in the living room with glasses, a shaker, and her cocktail supplies, and started shaking away.
All of this meant that my only concern as the party started was the turkey itself. Since it was resting during cocktail hour, I was able to relax and talk to my guests. I slipped out to carve the turkey and put the salads in serving bowls, but since the party was already going, I didn't feel like I was abandoning my guests.
Once the turkey was carved and served, my job was over. I sat back and let the gathering carry on into the wee hours. I love this kind of laid-back dinner party, both as a hostess and as a guest. Food on the table, wine in my glass, and friends around the table — that's how I entertain.
Related: Nora Ephron's Rule of Four: How to Intrigue and Satisfy Your Dinner Guests
(Top image: Sheri Codiana of Pork Cracklins; Bottom images: Emma Christensen)